How to make your work environment work for you: 5 indispensable tips for writers
By Karol Krol/ Writing seems like a fairly straightforward kind of a job, doesn't it? Essentially, you just have to sit in front of your computer, fire up some text processing software, and craft a quality chapter.
But things are always much easier said than done, and in practice, writers have to face many challenges on their way to success. We can all use tips to improve our productivity, and what follows may not work for anyone, but hey – you might as well give it a try if you're stuck!
In my work schedule, there are days when I absolutely have to write a certain number of words and any sort of writer's block is simply out of the question. Even though far from perfect, I think that the level of productivity I've achieved is directly connected with my work environment.
Here then, are a few great suggestions on how to stream line your environment into a productivity machine whether you have a deadline to meet, writer's block, or just need a way to motivate yourself.
Multi Screen Display
These days, setting up multiple screens doesn't even cost much money. You can get a new decent monitor for $300, which means that two such monitors will set you back around $600. Depending on where you are, how much searching you do, and sales, you can find good monitors with HDMI outputs as low as $149.00 at places like FutureShop.
Modern graphics cards, even the standard ones, allow you to connect two monitors by default, so you don't even need any fancy equipment except the monitors themselves.
There are many tutorials on YouTube to get you through the setup process, which is actually quite simple and doesn't require any technical skills.
But the big question is: Why?
Having two (or more) displays allows you to have your text processing software fired up on one screen and your research software on the other. Your web browser, Wikipedia, dictionary, translator, or whatever else you use when writing can be confined to one reference screen while you write on the other.
This option will save you a noticeably large amount of time as you no longer have to switch windows, minimize and maximize them, etc.
Happy Hands Make for a Happy Writer
Keyboards are the most underestimated writer's tool, which is actually kind of strange since it's the MAIN writing tool. Usually, when we buy a new computer, we pay attention to things like RAM, disk space, processor, the graphics card, the design in general, but keyboards are often overlooked. Most people just take what's available at the store, even writers, for crying out loud.
Since I was a programmer before I switched to a freelance writing career, I had the opportunity to work with tons of different keyboards, at the University, at the office, at home, and at my friends' houses. And I can tell you that there's a really big difference between an average keyboard and a really good one.
This is, however, a purely personal experience. So here's my advice: Go to your local big box store and try using various keyboards to write a short 300-word story.
I do realize that testing, say, five keyboards at the store will take a while, but it really is time well spent. Remember that you will be working with your new keyboard for a long time to come.
[jbox]What makes for the perfect keyboard?
For me, the keyboard has to have good spacing between the keys. The keys also need to be a short stroke for quick writing. These preferences are my own, which is why trying different keyboards out before buying them is really important. Find out what works for you, what type of keyboard is most comfortable to use, and But don't treat this as any sort of guideline, as these preferences are mine and yours can differ a lot. The only point is to find out what they actually are.[/jbox]
Data Synchronization Tools
This is something not many writers consider as a must, but if you don't use any sort of data synchronization tool, one day you can find yourself in a lot of trouble.
Essentially, this is about getting a safe place to store your data in case the hard disk on your computer fails one day. To be honest, your hard disk failing is not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you really need to be ready.
The first time a hard disk crashed on me was back at the University. I lost all my projects and had to develop them all over again. That was a really stressful semester.
The second time it happened, I was ready. I just bought a new disk and synchronized my data back in a matter of hours.
If it still doesn't sound that scary to you, just imagine you're writing a novel, you already have 60,000 words, your hard disk fails, and you lose everything. I think we all know what that might feel like.
The solution is simple. Use Dropbox or SugarSync. I'm personally a fan of the latter. It gives you 5GB of free space, there are apps for all major platforms, and it works unnoticed in the background, synchronizing your work on the fly and storing it in the cloud.
As in a desk at which you stand, as opposed to sitting.
What a concept!
- You can find most everything you need to build one yourself at your local hardware store, Ikea, or buy the real thing from an office department store.
Here's the complete construction process, and how I build my own in a few easy steps.
At first, it doesn't sound like a sensible thing to have, but I guarantee that you will learn to love it really quickly.
[jbox]How does a standing desk ups your productivity as a writer?
- It prevents you from writing more than 6-8 hours a day. No matter how busy your schedule is, spending more than 8 hours “at work” is never a healthy thing.
- It forces you to learn how to write fast and effectively. Simply no time to mess around.
- It teaches you how to write using a short, to-the-point style, instead of overly lengthy pieces or chapters.
- It has a number of health benefits. The standing position is much healthier than the seated position.
You can't possibly keep standing up for 10 hours straight, so you have to be much more productive and effective.
Give it a shot. Let the risk be on me.
This is a problem our writing forefathers didn't have to face that much. It's always easier to take a piece of paper and a pen, and start writing with a cup of coffee next to you. But when you do it on a computer, there's a myriad of things that can distract you.
A new message on Skype or that urge to visit Facebook just for a moment, a wild phone call, this cool cat video you really want to see, or maybe you've got some new mail, or maybe someone has re-tweeted one of your updates, and so on.
Now, I'm not saying that my approach is the perfect one, so feel free to take it or leave it, but here are the things I do:
- My phone on mute during writing time.
- A separate web browser for work, with no entertainment bookmarks in it.
- No Skype or other instant messaging software.
- No Gmail notifications in my web browser.
- No Twitter, Facebook or any other notifications, for that matter.
In essence, there's just me, my writing software, my research software, and that's it.
That pretty much sums up my work environment, and it's probably a good moment to conclude this article. I am standing at my desk right now, after all, and I really feel like sitting down for a moment.
Feel free to comment and let me know what your current work environment is. Do you have anything cool set up you'd like to show us? Make sure to include a link to photos, or videos of you in your work environment to show us how YOU make it work.
Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a freelance blogger and writer. Currently, he takes active part in the Writers in Charge project – teaching other writers how to take charge of their writing careers. You can join the team too by checking out this list of sites for writers that can help you score some freelance writing gigs before your next book deal goes through.